TSA Agents Get A Badge : Should TSA Screeners Have ‘Law Enforcement’ Shields?

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16/6/2008 – TSA Agents Get A Badge : Should TSA Screeners Have ‘Law Enforcement’ Shields?

This morning as passengers lined up for security screening at Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoints at Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI) they were greeted by TSA Screeners wearing badges.

I rarely speak negatively about the TSA. I see the TSA as being an agency tasked with a very difficult job, and being forced to navigate the political waters as such a ‘young agency.’ However in this instance my words may come off negatively. My negativity is not aimed at the front line TSA screeners who do an excellent job day-in-and-day out in securing the traveling public. My issue is with those who will use the new TSA uniform in an manner unfitting of someone wearing a badge and those in the upper levels of the TSA who decided this was a valid solution. These upper-level officials would rather change the uniform, and add a badge, than fixing well documented problems within the front line screening personnel and their interaction with the traveling public.

The new TSA badges are not the yellow patches sewn onto a white shirt or maroon sweater we have grown accustomed to (although the TSA at BWI has been wear a new blue uniform for a few weeks now), these are actual ‘law enforcement’ style metal badges. In the eyes of many frequent travelers, as well as bona-fide law enforcement officers, there are inherent problems with TSA Screeners wearing badges.

While TSA screeners are required to attend a two-day training program on how to speak with passenger in a ‘calm manner’ and other related issues before being issued their badges, screeners will not be allowed to wear or display their badges off duty. With the TSA employing well over 45,000 uniformed screeners, and the agency having a current turnover rate of approximately 21.2% for a variety of reasons, this leaves a lot of potential ‘federally issued’ badges out on the streets being possessed by those who are not actually law enforcement agents.

The TSA hopes that the badges will give the front line screeners more respect from the traveling public. The TSA should probably address its pre-hire screening process and screener training before placing its front line ‘public face’ into the field if it wishes to gain more respect. There are many (thousands) of documented cases of TSA screeners making up rules on the spot, no matter how incorrect, which in turn leads to misinformation and in-turn a confusing security process for travelers. When confronted by a ‘federal agent’ in uniform most passengers back down, now with a badge in place I’m sure the cases of intimidation with rise as well.

The many documented cases of under trained screeners, misinformed screeners, screeners who perform ‘retaliatory secondary screenings’ and the common complaints of ‘intimidation,’ are what lead to a lack of respect for the TSA’s front line. There are many outstanding TSA screeners, but overall the image of the TSA’s front line is in need of more professional training rather than a change of uniform.

Aside from the general objections to TSA screeners being issued badges, there are larger implications. What happens when there is a legitimate law enforcement problem in an airport and civilians turn to TSA agents for assistance where they are unable to help? What happens when TSA screeners are commonly mistaken for uniformed law enforcement while walking through an airport or other public area?

How will the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) respond when cases of TSA screeners’ flashing-their-badges start becoming a frequent issue, despite screeners not being allowed to display their badge off duty?

Will the TSA be issuing badges to screeners at airports such as San Francisco International Airport (SFO) where the security checkpoints are not operated by the TSA and the screeners are not TSA employees?

This morning USA Today reported that A.J. Castilla, a spokesman for a TSA Screeners Union, appeared eager to get a badge and is quoted him as saying “It’ll go a long way to enhance the respect of this workforce.”

Unfortunately I believe that the addition of a badge to the TSA uniform will not bring the screeners more respect. I see the addition of a badge to the TSA uniform as something that will not only bring confusion to the role of a TSA screener to the flying public, but also bring significant resentment aimed at TSA screeners from ‘legitimate’ law enforcement officers.

Happy Flying!

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Comments

  1. This is the first time I’ve felt compelled to leave a comment on one of yours postings. As someone who regularly flies from the DC-area airports to Western states and Canada I’ve had my fair share of rude and uninformed TSA agents. This recent change only makes the wait in the security lines that much more unpleasant. Hopefully changes are made to curtail abuse as the system is implemented.
    Cheers.

  2. Here we go with more fiddling while Rome burns while only ever paying lip service to real security.

    Sorry TSA bigwigs – a shiny badge doesn’t get your screener my respect. Respect has to be earned.

  3. To answer a few of your questions:

    What happens when there is a legitimate law enforcement problem in an airport and civilians turn to TSA agents for assistance where they are unable to help?

    The TSA agents will do what they’ve always done and that’s to call for a LEO.

    What happens when TSA screeners are commonly mistaken for uniformed law enforcement while walking through an airport or other public area?

    I’ve been mistaken for an Airline employee, a MBTA(Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority) employee, etc. Most people just see a person in uniform, they don’t actually notice much else. So, nothing happens. Passengers usually come up to us an ask for directions when we’re walking around. The same will happen no matter what color shirt we’re wearing.

    How will the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) respond when cases of TSA screeners’ flashing-their-badges start becoming a frequent issue, despite screeners not being allowed to display their badge off duty?

    They will be fired, fined, and prosecuted.

    AJ’s statement aside, I really think most of us would rather have a pay increase ane/or better equipment than a new uniform and badge. Not to mention that it’ll be so annoying having to take the badge off everytime I need to get through a metal detector(which is about 10 times a day atleast). This reminds me of when I was in the army and Shinseki had just come up with the new berets for everyone. Completely annoying and unnecessary.

  4. This is not necessarily the solution to the “respect” issue for TSA employees, but isn’t all bad either. They will certainly need to pay close attention to the potential for screeners to be “flashing” their badges will off duty. This is bound to happen, as it does with ANYONE who carries a badge. This does not mean TSA shouldn’t be able to display one in conjunction with a more professional uniform. As a current Federal Law Enforcement Officer, my biggest contention is with the comment of Airport Police representatives/officers. To the Airport Police, if you feel “undercut” by the fact that TSA employees now have a badge, that’s your own problem. And your references to “real police officers” – you guys are hardly “real police officers” yourselves.

  5. Once again, another botched (or planned) government program where barely capable TSA agents are given near SS authority in the most unnecessary situations. Common sense virtually non existent. Don’t get me wrong, there are very good agents out there which use good judgment and exercise proper respect towards passengers. However, I run across so many exhibiting sheer ignorance which overtakes all reasonable processes, providing a completely distasteful and unnecessary inconvenience. Now days, I make every effort to try and work out my business issues via phone or internet in a way that I could forfeit flight travel plans.

  6. I am a supervisor at a very busy airport for TSA..I find these new uniforms and badge totally ridiculous. We are not trained as officers and have no para-military background training. Infact we are not even considered peace officers. We do work (well, many of us) hard to keep the flying public safe. We are considered “first line” because should we stop explosives from entering an aircraft… chances are we will be harmed in that attempt…

    We are do not get respect from passengers ….they forget the unfortunate events that shattered many of our lives 9/11/01…I choose to work here as a way of showing my pride and concern for aviation. I already served my years as a city police officer.

    TSA has lowered its standards of hiring and we have a force of tyoung street thugs…Badges do not make us look better…its like dressing up a perpertrator on halloween…………

    If TSA wants real officers..they will have to follow through with their mission and make sure that we are all retrained…and rid our force of these unprofessional thugs.

    As TSA management issued us these new badges they threatend us about misuse of them.. ( carrying off-duty, flashing a “real officer of the law….etc……..) threatening us with 30 days suspension with a 1000 dollar fine and termination… maybe they should have resworn us in to protect and serve our nation…..thet would have been more dignified… I know that I sound disgruntled… and I am not… I go to work and attempt to change the thugs that I work with attitudes in making them professional and hoping they can respond as officers..I do my job to best asI was trained and common sense takes me…..

    Please dont make too much fun of TSA
    their intention are meaningful… and there have been no terror acts on our airlines since then…coincidence or not……

    P.S. A Pay increase would be better endornment then a stinking badge

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